Monday, June 22, 2015

In Support of Simon Pegg

I’m a Simon Pegg fan, more for his comedies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, End of the World) than his other work. (No offense to his other work, which I’ve heard is excellent. I just haven’t seen the movies, except for the Star Trek reboot, where he threatened to steal every time he was in.) Mr. Pegg recently found himself in the midst of a kerfuffle when he was quoted as saying:

“Obviously, I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

“It is a kind of dumbing down because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

This rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, notably those who take comic book- and superhero-based movies seriously. Pegg made an effort to clarify and expand upon his remarks:
Simon Pegg, at his audition for the
role of Dennis Lehane.

“Before Star Wars, the big Hollywood studios were making art movies, with morally ambiguous characters, that were thematically troubling and often dark (Travis Bickle dark, as opposed to Bruce Wayne dark). This was probably due in large part to the Vietnam War and the fact that a large portion of America’s young men were being forced to grow up very quickly. Images beamed back home from the conflict, were troubling and a growing protest movement forced the nation to question the action abroad. Elsewhere, feminism was still dismissed as a lunatic fringe by the patriarchal old guard, as mainstream culture actively perpetuated traditional gender roles. Star Wars was very much an antidote to the moral confusion of the war, solving the conundrum of who was good and who was evil. At the heart of the story was an ass kicking princess who must surely have empowered an entire generation of girls. It was a balm for a nation in crisis in a number of ways and such was that nation’s influence, the film became a global phenomenon.

“Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation of society. Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read. There was probably more discussion on Twitter about the The Force Awakens and the Batman vs Superman trailers than there was about the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election.”
I’ve allowed Mr. Pegg to write most of this post because I agree with him almost completely. (Thank you, sir. Should we meet, the drinks are on me.) I can understand why the Nepalese earthquake didn’t get as much run as Batman vs Superman, if only because how can one be for earthquakes? Americans seem to be far more interested in Ant Man and Iron Man and Superman and Batman and (you get the point) than they are in important policy matters relevant to the 2016 elections.   Most Americans content themselves with looking for candidates’
“gotcha” moments. (Certainly the media do.)

Don’t misunderstand me: I love mindless entertainment. In its place. I can recite Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Get Shorty, The Big Lebowski…) right along with the films, and miss few chances to drop lines into daily life. A cards-and-dice baseball game is among my preferred forms of recreation. The difference is I’m not going to argue about their cultural significance because there shouldn’t be any.

Too closely embracing cartoonish visions of crime and corruption and violence trivializes them, thus making it more difficult to take the real thing seriously. Everyone needs their escapism from time to time, and—oh, hell, yes—we need it badly now. (Though I could live without some of the fascist elements of the “Protect us at all costs” school.) Let’s just not forget that shit needs to get real, too, and it’s not doing that nearly often enough in popular culture, nor in the discussion of that culture. Leisure time and recreation are great; I’m as lazy as the next guy. What’s disturbing is how much effort and how many limited resources are expended on them, to the detriment of more important things.

1 comment:

Travis Richardson said...

I agree too, Dana. Some escapism is good, but we need to be aware of the world that we're in and the complex problems that can't always be solved with superheroes. Cable TV has been grittier thanks to smaller demographics. But blockbusters are for the masses (domestic and international) so much controversial content is watered down so as not to offend and heroes and villains are painted in stark black and white so nobody gets confused with the grays that all of us carry.